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The Enemies of Compassion


Day 57: The Enemies of Compassion


Joan Halifax, a Zen Buddhist teacher with a background as a hospice worker, speaks such truth.

Her words on compassion resonate and remind me of the many years I worked in hospice.


I can say with great confidence that not a single one of the hospice patients I met wanted pity, nor benefited from it. Not a single one of them wanted fear from those who visited, nor benefited from it. And it is the same for those who grieve—pity and fear are extra distressing in the presence of grief.


But why?


Fear and pity put up a wall between us and the person we are feeling towards. Fear and pity breed distance. They create disconnection and block empathy. And yet this disconnection is a normal defense for the pain that one sees, for the suffering that is hard to witness. And it is common for our systems to 1) begin to connect and then 2) shy away from the pain.


So how do you show up without fear and pity? It is not easy. And it takes bravery. AND we are all capable of it. To show up without putting up walls means naming what is happening inside of ourselves—what is so scary about this pain that we feel? What is happening in us? What are we most fearful of when we witness someone’s grief and pain? Simply naming what comes up for you can help your system relax, and help you remain in a state of compassion. And compassion, according to Joan Halifax, “is the capacity to attend to the experience of others, to feel concern for others, to be able to really sense into what will serve others, and also to have the capacity to serve both directly and indirectly.”


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